“Yesterday, they were decent people letting their environment die. Now they are savages, killing to keep themselves alive.” — Tagline from No Blade of Grass (1)
“…it is imposible to understand why journalistic craftsmen in non-broadcast media either remain silent or applaud the cultural dictators when every constitutional justification for broadcast censorship can have similar counterparts with respect to nonbroadcast media.” — W. Theodore Pierson(2)
Fiction and The Breaking of the Fourth Seal.
Michael Crichton was a solid pulp-suspense writer, but nonetheless I recently decided I hadn’t ever read Andromeda Strain and so I picked up the book knowing what I was in for regarding the writing. I think what drove my decision was that I’d seen the movie in my early years and found it haunting — not so much the entire movie but the engrossing scene of the helicopter flying over a small town with people lying around dead that initiated the mystery about what had occurred. Investigation eventually determines that the virus is an extraterrestrial microbe transported by a meteor that crashed into a satellite.
There are many types of viruses but I’ll broadly define them as infectious agents that target systems.
Let’s name a few viruses: YouTube, Twitter, CoVid-19. These have arisen biologically or through human creation, and arguably they have the ability to be transmitted culturally or biologically. All can disrupt systems, both strictly biological or on the thinking/decision making level.
YouTube (a Google subsidiary) started running one and then two ads at the start of videos, and then it began interrupting videos not with their incessant popups that can be blocked but with ads that replace the video itself. I no longer go to YouTube for content. They’re done.
Out of curiosity, because I know that non cable subscribers often use such services, I Duck Duck Go’d reviews of sites that stream movies such as Hulu and Tubi. It was as I predicted. Each had reviews by people complaining about the ads. One person wrote of Tubi, “For about half the movie they showed 5 1/2 minutes of movie interrupted by 2 1/2 minutes of commercials (yes I timed it!)” (3)
For Hulu someone wrote “They play too many Ads through out your program. After 5 min into the show, you have to watch 5 min of Ads. They claim its only 1:30 min, but thats not the case. Ads will continue to play. And this doesnt happen just once. It happens multiple times while watching a songle episode.” (4)
Another person wrote about Hulu, “They force ads in every spot they get, and will then argue semantics over ads and commercials being different.” (5) If that’s true I find it pretty funny. I imagine, “That’s not an advertisement because it’s a commercial,” like a teenager arguing semantics, “When you said come home before ten, I thought you meant ten tomorrow night.”
Last week in St. Louis, my favorite martian, I mean our favorite wordsmith Joe Biden again got confused in a speech saying in part, “… we cannot get re-elect, we cannot win this re-election — excuse me. We can only re-elect Donald Trump….” Twitter labeled in a twit-like manner the unedited video as “manipulated media” (6) You can watch the excerpt multiple places on the net to see the unedited speech to verify that the chess master really said this.
I think we are witnessing different strains of viruses, in forms of or transmitted by content providers, advertisers, influencers, and media spinners. One could argue that in their own way each one has the ability, and some are designed with the intent, to disrupt systems, of thinking, for example.
Appearing, now over the horizon, is a future pandemic, one of a mostly one way internet communication consisting solely of ads and managed propaganda. Surfers will be allowed to pay for the next tier, and the next, in a bait and switch scheme to reduce the number of ads while still getting both ads and managed propaganda.
Fictional Endemic Epidemic.
At any rate, in my online skimming I found on BitChute the movie No Blade of Grass (1970) billed as an apocalyptic film about a virus that devastates the earth. I’ve been a passive recipient of the hysteria over COVID-19 and so it seemed apropos. But before I get into a quick review, I merely mention that on the Wikipedia page for BitChute someone has added, “The platform accommodates far-right individuals and conspiracy theorists; with the Southern Poverty Law Center saying the site hosts ‘hate-fueled material.” This sort of attack always predictably arises when a platform allows or confronts non-mainstream propaganda, or when a platform doesn’t feed revenue into one of the big content providers. We aren’t fooled. We know that corporations pays shills to do this sort of thing.
In No Blade of Grass, the virus has arisen presumably by toxic waste dumped into the water by corporations that is then carried by water to kill grass, wheat, and rice. As a result, starvation is rampant. A Londoner, John Custance, and his family and some others, including a character played by Wendy Richard who we remember best as cockney speaking Shirley Brahms from Are You Being Served?, travel to a farm in Scotland where they think they will be safe. John’s wife wishes they could instead go to Manitoba for safety. I guess she doesn’t know Manitoba is mostly grass.
As they head out, a host of moral issues arise. Should a country have the right to enact martial law? Do citizens without food have the right to steal? Can one eat other humans if food isn’t available? Is it ok to become barbaric and rationalize it by saying circumstances force you into it? Is revenge killing warranted? Is it acceptable to kill if one is going to be killed? The answer to the last is pretty quickly yes in this movie, because in the quick pull of a trigger this moral issue is resolved for the remainder of the movie. Evidently China has dropped nerve gas on its own people, killing about 300 million in a variation of utilitarianism’s greatest good for the greatest number. The remaining have a better chance of living and Chinese society has a better chance of surviving.
Londoners who know their history will find this dilemma particularly resonant. In World War II, ther Germans were bombing London, with some doddlebug bombs hitting their intended target of central London. Should this be announced? As David Edmonds writes in his enjoyable book, Would You Kill the Fat Man: The Trolley Problem and What Your Answer Tells Us about Right and Wrong, “An ingenious plan presented itself in Whitehall. If the Germans could be deceived into believing that the doodlebugs were hitting their mark — or, better still, missing their mark by falling north — then they would not readjust the trajectory of the bombs….That could save lives.” In other words what if the Germans could be convinced they were hitting central London when for example their bombs were falling on the South London suburbs? Again the moral issue raised inherent in the idea of the greatest good for the greatest number.
Along the journey to Scotland, our Chaucer-esque band has infighting and murder conveyed in a series of vignettes. They are attacked by soldiers and vigilantes. They listen to a Churchill-like voice on the shortwave. The group links up with another group of people seeking safety. In a long, exciting(?) scene, the UK Hell’s Angels, sans choppers, wearing Union Jack striped helmets sprouting Valkyrie horns, attack the group. When I say attack I mean the motorcyclists ride in a circle and get shot at by the pilgrims, then they smarten up and use rocks as jumps so the pilgrims can pick them off in the air. At the end there’s a bit of a battle against the defending group led by John’s brother. Is it morally acceptable to push the greater good for the most people into the realm of family?
Don’t be mistaken. This is a terrible movie with nice red hued flash-aheads. Dialogue is flat-footed, the plot predictable, the acting what you would expect if the actors were drunk, and you were drunk and the play was summer stock. Either the virus is killing the plant family Poaceae and thus reducing food, or the grass itself is dangerous, hence John’s using a weed torch to obliterate grass on his back lawn at the beginning of the film. There is liberal use of stock footage of polluting factories and sludgy rivers. Ugly continuity problems pour down like acid rain. The pilgrims walk across quite a few grass covered hills, the virus hasn’t yet reached the UK evidently, although there are food shortages and as we know from films past, the English will riot over anything. The music throughout is singularly dreadful. A review title: This movie puts the pan in pandemic. Nonetheless, No Blade of Grass catches our glance because we currently have countries imposing quarantines, we have color and number travel advisories, we see pictures of store shelves without food and memes of Rambo carrying a case of toilet paper. We hear speculation on what a worst case scenario may involve. It will be interesting if Hollywood takes a massive bath on this one.
I mention that in my view, which aligns with the CDC and WHO, is that COVID-19 is for the most part, for most people, a bad cold, so it’s worth speculating on the apparent reason why the media takes an an all out alarmist approach to coverage. Well, as Critchon wrote in Andromeda Strain, “A crisis is made by men, who enter into the crisis with their own prejudices, propensities, and predispositions. A crisis is the sum of intuition and blind spots, a blend of facts noted and facts ignored.”
Maybe this wave is just the return of a cyclical mania regarding natural disasters out of our control. And note, while the medial panics everyone about COVID-19, they didn’t have nearly as much to say about the truly deadly Ebola when cases were high. Nor, extending the argument, does it, nor do we, exhibit any widespread outrage over the viruses that have overtaken our media. William Henry Chamberlain once wrote regarding the quote at the top of this article, “What Mr. Pierson was saying, in plain English, is that when a lion is in the streets, it’s the duty of every able-bodied man to do something about it — if only for reasons fo pure self interest.” (7) We do and we don’t. We fight Ebola fairly successfully, we initiate all sorts of attempts to inhibit the spread of COVID-19, yet we ignore viruses of content and censorship on the airwaves, which, by the way, we theoretically own. (8) Sooner than we expect, our media will be lying dead in Piedmont, Arizona, the town where the Andromeda Strain appeared, and most stupidly we’ll attempt to seek the reason.
(1) Tagline from No Blade of Grass, 1970, directed by Cornel Wilde, screenplay by Wilde and Sean Forestal, based on the novel The Death of Grass by Sam Youd using the pen name John Christopher.
(2) Chamberlain, W. H. (June 1, 1962). Let the People Own the Airwaves. Foundation for Economic Education.
(6) Laila, C. (March 8, 2020). Twitter Labels Unedited Video Clip of Biden Saying “We Can Only Re-elect Donald Trump” as “Manipulated Media” Gateway Pundit. https://www.thegatewaypundit.com/2020/03/twitter-labels-video-of-biden-saying-we-can-only-re-elect-donald-trump-as-manipulated-media/.
(7) (2) Chamberlain, W. H. (June 1, 1962). Let the People Own the Airwaves. Foundation for Economic Education.
(8) See for example the Supreme Court decision ABC v. Aereo, Grace, M.L. (June 25, 2014). Supreme Court Judges Rule “Public Airwaves” are Owned by Disney, NBC, CBS, ABC and Fox. https://www.cruiselinehistory.com/supreme-court-judges-rule-public-airwaves-are-owned-by-disney-nbc-cbs-abc-and-fox/abc v; and ABC et al.v. Aereo, (n.d.) https://genius.com/The-supreme-court-of-the-united-states-abc-et-al-v-aereo-annotated; and check out Ralph Nader’s Letter to the Commissioners (March 18, 2019) in which he accuses the FCC of being “an inert toady for the and television broadcasting industry.”